he humble fighter stands out as one of the simplest classes in the Dungeons & Dragons game, but it's also consistently the most popular character class in the game. The fighter encompasses the classic archetype of the adventuring hero—the tough warrior who battles monsters and saves the day.
The fighter remained one of the simplest classes for many years. Personally, I think that's because the fighter was the baseline from which many classes deviated. A rogue lacks a fighter's armor and hit points, but makes up for it through cunning and skills. A monk is basically a fighter who trades in weapons and armor for mystical combat abilities. A ranger is a wilderness fighter who dabbles in magic, while a paladin is a fighter with a holy cause.
When you're relegated to serving as the baseline, it's hard to acquire a distinct flavor. 4th Edition was the first version of D&D to give the fighter a truly unique mechanic. Before that, combat feats in 3e created lots of options for the fighter but were available to other classes as well. Weapon specialization was an optional rule in 2nd Edition, but it did a great job of making it clear that fighters were the best warriors. Even better, it was a fairly simple rule to understand.
Playtest feedback for D&D Next has consistently painted the fighter as one of the most satisfying and powerful classes in the game. We also know that though a simple fighter is great for many players, others want more options for the class.
In the final version of the fighter, you can opt for the Battle Master martial archetype. The Battle Master is a student of warfare—someone for whom combat is a field worthy of deep study, endless practice, and focused mastery. As a Battle Master, you gain maneuvers and superiority dice, which start as d8s. You expend your superiority dice to use maneuvers, and regain them by taking a short or long rest. Most of your maneuvers apply the die as a bonus to another die roll, and some include special offensive and defensive effects.
Maneuvers allow you to expend a superiority die to take a special action, granting benefits like the following:
- Grant a bonus attack to an ally in place of one of your own attacks
- Disarm an enemy
- Grant an ally advantage on an attack roll against a target
- Make a counterattack as a reaction
- Sweep your weapon through an area, damaging several foes with one attack
- Parry an attack
- Force an enemy to move
- Allow an ally to move
Maneuvers bring a tactical element to the game similar to what 4th Edition added to the fighter. We've managed to cover many of the concepts that were popular fighter powers, giving Battle Masters sixteen maneuvers to choose from (as of this writing; as we continue to polish the game, that number might change).
Best of all, maneuvers allow the game to model a variety of classic fighter archetypes without cluttering the system with too many new paths. You can build a swashbuckling fighter with a high Dexterity, finesse weapons, and the Parry, Riposte, and Spring Away maneuvers. A warlord-style fighter can take Commander's Strike, Maneuvering Attack, and Rally to serve as an effective combat leader.
Our approach to maneuvers also reflects an important aspect of our overall class design philosophy in D&D Next. Whenever possible, we've tried to make sure that the basic functionality needed to make your character work takes up few, if any, of your choices. Right from 1st level, a swashbuckler can fight as well in light armor and with a rapier as another fighter in chainmail wielding a longsword, all without needing to take feats or special abilities. Since it's important for characters to function at 1st and 2nd level, before the fighter class's customization options kick in, we've made sure those customization options build on features that are already part of the core system.
Because they can be regained after a short rest, superiority dice and maneuvers are also part of a larger trend. With the feedback from the playtest, our work on polishing class balance has let us introduce more abilities that are regained with a short rest. (If you read the warlock article, you know that we have a spellcasting class that works along those lines.) Balancing abilities that return on a short rest is tricky. Make them too easy to regain, and battles and encounters become predictable. Make them too hard to regain, and they feel no different than abilities regained with a long rest. Thanks to the playtest, we were able to establish a baseline on which we could build more encounter-based abilities into the core game.
Finally, here's a little treat from Neverwinter.
Mike Mearls is the senior manager for the D&D research and design team. He led the design for 5th Edition D&D. His other credits include the Castle Ravenloft board game, Monster Manual 3 for 4th Edition, and Player’s Handbook 2 for 3rd Edition.